Sunday, 17 August 2014

Thinking about marriage

Marriage should be honoured by all. Hebrews 13:4

Today is my thirty-fourth wedding anniversary. So naturally my wife Nina and I, as we were talking and praying earlier, reflected on our years together, the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows. I thought I would use this post to share with you a little of what we have learned, lessons from a combination of scripture and experience. It’s all a bit random really, a mixture of the pretty commonplace and the possibly contentious. But you might just find it interesting. I've arranged my thoughts under seven headings...

(1) Marriage is good! Well, given that it is a gift of God, that’s hardly surprising, is it? But sometimes the obvious needs stating. Marriage is how God ordained that men and women should share their lives together (Genesis 2:18), so how could it not be good?

(2) But marriage is not the be-all and end-all. Marriage may be the norm, but singleness is also a gift from God. Jesus, of course, never married. Paul was a single man, though whether he never married, or whether he had been widowed or divorced, we don’t know. We know for a fact that Peter was married (Mark 1:30), also various of the other apostles (1 Corinthians 9:5). But the point is that no-one who either chooses to remain single, or is unable to find a marriage partner, should imagine that they are in any way second-best. God loves, values and uses the single also.

(3) Marriage needs hard work. This, I suppose, is the big cliché that gets trotted out to every couple considering marriage. But the reason it’s a cliché, of course, is because it happens to be true: a cliché by definition is a truism. Every marriage has tensions, disagreements, dry patches, sometime even major crises. How stupid we are to swallow the superficial nonsense fed to us in a million magazines, books and films! - that marriage is constant ecstasy, always dreamily romantic, with gloriously exciting sex twenty times a week. It just isn’t like that. Every married person has painful lessons to learn - very likely about their own basic selfishness. Learned well, these lessons make us far better people.

(4) Following on from that, one of marriage’s delights can be its sheer ordinariness. I remember the words of an old song: “You’d be so nice to come home to, / So nice by the fire...” I like that! Marriage is, in essence, about companionship. When you get married you are in effect saying to your partner, “You’re the best friend I have ever had or could ever wish to have. I just want to spend my life with you.” 

(5) Marriage is a male-female relationship. In both the Bible and Christian tradition on the one hand, and also in virtually every culture down through history on the other, this has been the case. Same-sex physical relationships is far too complex a topic to go in to here. I hold to the traditional view that they are forbidden by God, though I believe that he loves those who have chosen this path. I can see too that in our modern secular culture people in such relationships are entitled to have legal recognition, civil partnerships. But for the time-honoured definition of “marriage” to be so radically and hastily altered to include same-sex relationships, as it has been in Britain, seems wrong to me.

(6) Marriage is for life - “until death parts us”, as the marriage service puts it. The Bible has nothing positive to say about divorce, though it does open the door to it under certain circumstances. It is ironic that many churches that preach vehemently against same-sex relationships (hardly mentioned in the Bible) are virtually silent when it comes to divorce (about which the Bible has much to say). Is this, I wonder, because so many people in their congregations have been divorced? Or is that just me being cynical? Whatever, life-long marriage is God’s ideal, and we need to strive for it. But that doesn’t mean that God turns against those who have fallen short of the ideal; he still loves them, and longs to give them a fresh start. 

(7) I can’t resist adding... your marriage matters infinitely more than your wedding! Weddings - the whole business of the wedding day, the reception(s) and the honeymoon - have become exactly that, big business, frighteningly expensive and absurdly stressful. All for something that lasts a few days! What needs the planning and preparation infinitely more is the marriage: how much heartbreak might be saved if we got this priority right.

Well, Nina and I look back with gratitude to God for 16 August 1980. It hasn’t always been easy. It certainly hasn’t been perfect. But neither of us would undo a day of it. And for this we thank God. May God bless you too, whatever your situation may be!
Lord God, some of us are married, some unmarried. Some have lost their partner, some have been divorced. Whatever our situation, help us to accept it as from your loving hand, and to use our lives for your glory and for the happiness of others. Amen.

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